“Carry on with your meal.”
The staff had put down their cutlery when the Minister entered the kitchen. Harris, the butler, rose to his feet.
“As you know, we have an important meeting this weekend,” the Minister continued, “and I’m sure you will all perform to your usual high standard. One of the guests, you may recall, has the habit of, err…” He cleared his throat, “…err, straying. I’d be obliged if you, Harris and you, Henry,” he nodded to the footman, “could make your presence known in the corridors during the night.”
“Certainly sir,” Harris replied. Henry nodded grudgingly.
The Minister left the room. Harriet, one of the maids, started sobbing. She remembered only too well the guest in question and the nature of his straying. In the middle of the night, about four months earlier, he had burst into her room, violently restrained her and committed a vile and degrading act.
Harriet became more agitated. She was a naive fourteen year old and the Minister’s request brought back all the memories of the pain and humiliation of that night. Mrs. Rossiter, the cook tried to comfort her.
“It won’t happen again,” said Harris reassuringly. His optimism was wasted on Harriet whose tears were now in full flood.
Henry remained silent. He alone knew that there were two identical violations that night. Harriet had become hysterical. He had decided to say nothing.
“Something should be done about him, the boss eyed pervert,” Mrs. Rossiter said angrily.
“Hush woman,” said Harris. “He’s a Minister of the Crown and nothing can be done.”
Harris knew, but didn’t share his knowledge with the staff, that this guest had a reputation for this kind of sordid behaviour in great houses across the country. Young servants, male or female were easy prey who could be ignored if they dared to say anything. Various strategies were put in place to hinder his advances.
“They put people in prison, for things like that,” said Mrs. Rossiter. “They hang them in the forces…”
I’ve told you to be quiet,” ordered Harris. Mrs. Rossiter shut her lips tightly and deliberately.
Over the next few days the household busied itself preparing for the arrival of some of the greatest and most powerful members of the Government and Establishment. There were also preparations for making entry to the servants’ quarters more difficult.
On the Friday, it was Harris’ job to greet the guests and escort them to the great hall. Inevitably, the subject of the Minister’s and staff’s earlier discussions arrived. He was in full dress uniform. You always noticed his squint before you noticed his magnificent mustache.
Harris opened the door. “Good Evening Lord Kitchener,” he said, bowing slightly. “It is a great pleasure to welcome you here again.”